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Dangerous driving

Oct. 10, 2000

Lax alcohol policies mean less money for state roads

Congressional negotiators recently approved a measure that would set a national blood alcohol limit of intoxication at 0.08 percent, and states that fail to follow the mandate will have their federal highway funding cut. Drunk driving is a serious problem, especially in Texas, where more people are killed in alcohol-related accidents than in any other state. But the way to improve the problem of drunk driving is not to mandate a particular blood-alcohol level for every state or to cut states' highway funding. Rather, the federal government should allow states to decide on their own and redirect the funding of states that fail to lower the rate of alcohol-related driving fatalities to other areas that could possibly help curb drunk driving.

According to the National Highway Transportation Administra-tion, in 1999 there were 15,786 deaths related to drunk driving in the United States, approximately 38 percent of all U.S. traffic deaths. In Texas, there were 1,734 alcohol-related deaths that accounted for approximately 49 percent of all traffic deaths. Obviously drunk driving is a problem, and states should take necessary action to reduce the frequency of these accidents to make highways and roads safer. But transportation is, and should remain, a state jurisdiction. State legislatures should decide the best way to address the problem on their own, based on the varying people, values and resources of different states. Leaders of one state may feel it best to focus its resources on increasing the awareness of the dangers of drunk driving, while another may opt to increase enforcement and penalties of drunk driving.

The goal of the mandate may be to lower alcohol-related deaths, but it could actually increase the number of fatalities. CNN reported that if the measure is signed into law, eventually 8 percent of a state's federal highway funding could be cut if it does not comply with the mandate, which could lead to a deadly combination of drunken people driving on dangerous roads. Instead, the funding should be redirected to educational, awareness and preventative programs that could assist the state in lowering the number of alcohol-related deaths.

All states should take action to maintain safe roads. Whether the decision is to lower the legal intoxication levels or to decrease drunk driving through other programs, legislatures are best equipped to make the decision. The federal government should offer assistance to help states deal with the problem, not mandate a universal decision or cut state funding.